Dispute an Incorrect ItemYour credit reports are essentially the lifeblood of your financial health, and if one or more negative items winds up on them, the consequences include lower credit scores, diminished opportunities when it comes to opening credit cards or taking out loans and even possibly getting passed over for jobs and apartment rentals. We’ve talked in the past about how important it is to regularly check your credit reports — there are three of them, one from each of the credit bureaus Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — for any errors that might be affecting your credit in a negative manner. Although it is not possible to get derogatory items removed from your credit reports that are legitimate, such as a loan you knowingly let go into default, if something shows up that you know you weren’t responsible for, it is possible to get it removed by filing a dispute. If you’re curious about the process, keep reading for an in-depth guide on how to dispute an incorrect item and get it removed from your credit reports.

There are a few ways to approach the dispute of an incorrect item

Although the actual process of getting an item removed from your credit report(s) is about the same, you have a few options when it comes to how you choose to approach it. You can handle all of the work yourself, get a bit of assistance from a credit report monitoring service or employ a credit repair service to navigate all of the necessary paperwork for you. The route you choose to take depends on how much work you want to do yourself, as well as how many items you’d like to dispute. If you don’t have a lot of time on your hands to sift through government and credit bureau websites looking for the right links and drafting dispute letters, most credit report monitoring services like Identity Guard provide contact information and instructions to get you through the process in less time. If one or more of your credit reports are riddled with errors, possibly as a result of identity theft, then you might want to look into hiring a credit repair service like Lexington Law to help. You can learn more about the differences between these two types of services by reading this blog post.

What’s the process to dispute an incorrect item on my credit report?

Although it can be somewhat time consuming, the process to dispute an incorrect item on your credit report(s) is fairly straightforward. Here are the steps you need to take:

1. Obtain an up-to-date copy of all three of your credit reports. Remember, not every item will appear on all of your credit reports since some creditors only report to one of the bureaus, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t carefully review all three of your credit reports to ensure that you have caught all potential errors. If it has been at least 12 months since the last time you requested a free copy of your credit reports, you can view all three through AnnualCreditReport.com. If you’ve already viewed your free credit reports this year, you can sign up for a credit report monitoring service to see them. Many of these services offer a free trial period, so if you want you can sign up and view/print your reports then cancel before your credit card gets charged. However, keep in mind that through the disputing process you will probably want to be able to view regularly updated credit reports to ensure items are removed if your dispute is approved — which would make it worth keeping the service past the trial period.

2. Let the credit bureau(s) know about the error. Keep in mind, many creditors will correct minor issues if asked, so before contacting the credit bureaus you should always try to resolve it with the creditor itself. After that, if necessary, you can file an official dispute online (as many as you wish) with all three credit bureaus or by sending a letter through the mail with Equifax and TransUnion. If you’re using a credit monitoring service, you can usually find sample letters to use. If you’re going it alone and wish to file your dispute via mail, the FTC’s website has sample letters you can use. You’ll need to indicate which item(s) are being disputed and include as much information supporting your case as you can. It helps to submit copies of your credit reports with the items in question circled or highlighted, that way there can be no doubts as to what you’re referencing. Keep copies of anything you send for your own records and be sure to send each letter by certified mail with a return receipt request so you can be sure it is received.

3. Make sure to follow up. Upon receiving your request, the credit bureau has 30 days to investigate and provide a response. If it can’t verify that the information on your credit report is accurate, then it must be removed from your report. Don’t just assume that the error was corrected! Make sure it’s been taken care of by contacting the credit bureau after the 30 days is up to follow up, especially if you haven’t received notification online or by mail. If you receive a response and it tells you that your dispute has been rejected, you can always appeal with more information if you truly believe the derogatory item is inaccurate.

What if I believe I’ve been a victim of identity theft?

If you are disputing items on your credit reports that you believe are there because of identity theft, in addition to all of the above, you should also report the identity theft. This can be extremely helpful to further your case for having items removed from your credit reports, so it’s a good idea to report identity theft before filing disputes for items on your credit reports. In the event you’ve been a victim of identity theft, an identity theft protection service that provides extensive credit report monitoring, such as Identity Guard or PrivacyGuard, is probably your best bet so you can make sure these errors are removed and confirm that no new fraud accounts pop up on your reports.

Is there anything I should do after an item is successfully disputed and removed?

Make sure to request a new copy of any credit report you’ve disputed an incorrect item on 30 days or more after the fact to be sure it was actually removed. The No. 1 rule of keeping up with your credit is to never assume anything — always make sure you have the facts in front of you. Again, this is another instance where a subscription to a credit report monitoring service that provides regularly updated credit reports can be a great asset, since requesting individual copies of your credit reports from the credit bureaus or one-time credit report services can add up in cost.

To learn more about the different credit report monitoring services out there and how they could be helpful to someone who wants to dispute errors on their credit reports (as well as monitor for any new issues that might pop up), check out our reviews.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the companies referenced in this article. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the companies mentioned. NextAdvisor.com may be compensated through advertiser affiliate programs.